Puzzling tale of US's doping appeals impacts on Baxter

THE doctor whose evidence cost Scottish skier Alain Baxter his Olympic bronze medal has been named among a three- man committee who ‘cleared’ Carl Lewis and other American athletes after they failed drugs tests.

Evidence by Dr Don Catlin, of the Olympic Analytical Laboratory at the University of California in Los Angeles, was crucial in convicting Alain Baxter after he accidentally took a banned substance in an over-the-counter Vicks inhaler. Baxter was stripped of his slalom bronze medal, though an appeal cleared him of cheating.

But Scotland on Sunday can reveal that Catlin was named as a member of the appeals committee of the United States Olympic Commission,who routinely allowed US Olympians to compete despite failing drugs tests.

In an extraordinary revelation which casts major doubts on the conduct of the commission, Dr Catlin told Scotland on Sunday that he denied being a member of an appeals committee, and said that no such committee existed.

But reports in American newspapers containing statements by the athletes themselves have confirmed that the appeals were allowed by the ‘appeals committee’ because the athletes ingested the drugs accidentally in over-the-counter cold remedies and herbal supplements.

In a new twist to the mystery of how almost 100 athletes, such as Lewis and tennis player Mary Jo Fernandez, were cleared to compete by the USOC after failing drugs tests, Dr Catlin told Scotland on Sunday that he denied ever taking part in any vote on the cleared athletes.

His admission must cast huge doubts on the American appeals process at the time, for Dr Catlin’s claim effectively means that the decision to grant the appeals was taken by one man, Baaron Pittenger, who was executive director of the USOC in 1988.

The decision to allow their appeals meant that track stars Carl Lewis and Joe DeLoach were allowed to compete and win gold medals at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, though Pittenger said last week that the level of banned stimulants found in Lewis’s system - mostly ephedrine - was not significant enough to be performance-enhancing.

Pittenger maintained that if the same levels were found in an athlete today, it would not even require the laboratory to notify doping authorities.

The story broke after Wade Exum, who was turned down for a job with the World Anti-Doping Agency after the USOC refused to back him, went public with test results, memos or letters indicating positive drug tests for 100 athletes between 1988 and 2000. Those athletes won 19 medals from 1984 to 2000. Perhaps more significantly, at least 18 athletes tested positive in the Olympic trials, and were allowed to compete in the Games.

The documents naming Lewis and Fernandez were published in Sports Illustrated and the Orange County Register.

Lewis, winner of nine Olympic golds, has always denied that he took drugs. He was renowned for criticism of Ben Johnson, the Canadian who finished first in the 100 metres at Seoul, but was disqualified after failing a drugs test.

"Everyone knows I am an athlete against drug use, and always have been," said Lewis quoted in the Los Angeles Times last week. "People against me - they may feel like they have ammo or evidence. I don’t think so."

Fernandez has also denied taking drugs, but in an issue that reflects directly on Baxter’s case, Exum documents showed that she had admitted using an over-the-counter cold remedy.

All of the athletes were cleared by a ‘committee’ that Dr Catlin says did not exist.

"There was no such entity as a ‘three-man appeals committee’ or any standing committee to deal with such matters," said Catlin. "As the director of the laboratory that performs testing, I am regularly called on as a scientific and technical expert to explain the scientific and technical aspects of our laboratory analytical reports. I do not vote.

"It would not be appropriate for the laboratory director to vote on such matters, as that would mean that I serve as both the judge and jury. People working in the doping field know that I take my work very seriously, and would never take such an inappropriate position."

Dr Catlin’s claim is devastating: under Olympic rules, appeals should have been allowed and if, as he says, no such committee existed, there must surely be an inquiry into the conduct of the USOC.

Professor Arnold Becket, a former member of the medical commission of the International Olympic Committee who advised Baxter on his appeal, attacked Dr Catlin’s position as "inconsistent."

He said: "The things we are being told about in the USA make me very angry, particularly in relation to Alain Baxter’s case. He did not take a banned substance, as levAmphetamine was not on the list, but it was Dr Catlin’s evidence which the appeal committee believed."

Baxter was competing in a car rally in Northumberland yesterday, and his only comment on Dr Catlin was: "Brutal."

When Baxter failed his test, the issue was quickly made public; what the Americans and IOC cannot adequately explain is how so many tests were failed without that issue being made public. Athletes should have been warned about the dangers of over-the-counter remedies, and thus Baxter might not have bought the Vicks inhaler.